Osouji! Japanese New Year Cleaning: How is it Different From Spring Cleaning?

Dec 16, 2018

1.  New Years Cleaning in Japan? Why New Year?



So, does anyone else deep clean their house once a year? In spring, or at the end of the year?
This type of cleaning is known in the U.S has spring cleaning, while in Japan, it is an end of the year tradition.

So why clean towards the end of the year?

Although, many Japanese people do not know this but it is deeply related to religion. In addition, many people in Japan do not want to welcome the New Years in a dirty home. It makes them uncomfortable and many often feel remorse for not taking part in this end of year tradition.

This end of the year cleaning tradition is done not only at home, but also at work and schools as well. When it is done at companies or schools, usually the date is decided, and all workers or students participate in it.
It can be viewed as a bit rude if certain workers decide not participate in it. This is view has a chance to clean up areas they are not able to clean or reach every day as well.
It is one of the big and important yearly event in Japan, and as a result regret can set in if they do not participate.

Why did this become a custom and why is it still kept till today?
The history of housecleaning, especially during this time of the year, has been traced back to about 1,000 years.
This article introduces the history of house cleaning in Japan, and explain how people in Japan follow the custom now.
Let’s see this in further detail.


2. People in Japan and Reasons for New Years Cleaning



Going back to the religious reason for the Japanese end of the year cleaning traditions.
Actually, it has a deep relationship to Japanese Shinto gods.
People in Japan highly respect the Buddha as well as the Shinto gods, and they believe that they are not able to welcome them to the next one year with a dirty house.
Because of that, people in Japan try to clean up their house at the end of the year, and in an effort to welcome the Buddha and Shinto gods and so they could feel comfortable when the new years comes around.
Also so that they could get the good fortune from the gods.

It is believed that the end of the year house cleaning custom was started in the Heian period (from 794 to 1185 or 1192) in Japan.
This means the custom may have been around for more than 1,200 years!

Another custom come among people in Japan, is a custom in which people in Japan go out to buy new underwear for new year, and then wear it in the New year, so that they are able to welcome the new year with brand new feelings.
There are still some people in Japan who keep this custom.
As you can see from the above customs, Japanese people do not like to or want to bring something bad or dirty into the New Year, and they want things to be a clean and fresh beginning.

It is also seen through a party held in the end of a year called “Bonen-kai” in Japan.
“Bonen” means to forget the year, and “kai” means a party.
As you can see from this word, the party is held so that they are able to forget some bad memories or experiences from that year.
This type of party are not just for celebrated among friends or family, but among company members and workers.
You also may be asked to join it if you belong to something in Japan, and it is very nice to experience and enjoy it!

As you can see from these customs, the new year is a very special event for people in Japan, and they prepare for it right from the end of the year before.
It is a time to focus on newness and forgetting the old dirt from the year before. They want to be able to start afresh with the gods and be as happy as possible.


3. Differences Between the New Years Cleaning and Spring Cleaning


In the US, it is common that people clean up their house in spring and not at the end of the year; this is called “spring cleaning”.
Why is the house cleaning done in the spring rather than the end of the year?
Many U.S Americans believe that house cleaning is much easier done in the spring, after the melting of the snow. One way this time of year is easier for them, is that after the winter use of the air conditioner for heating, the spring is seen as a time to clean it and start a fresh.
In addition, they are also able to check whether there are any troubles on the roof or chimney of the fireplace in their house after melting of the snow.
Originally, it is believed that people in the US started to do house cleaning in spring because many homes back in the days had fireplaces that used original firewood.
Because they used it all the time in winter, they needed to clean it up, and it is said that the custom of spring cleaning has started for the purpose of cleaning their fireplaces.
Especially since it is can be impossible to clean
the chimney during the winter when it snows. As a result the customs of Spring cleaning spread across the U.S.
Compared to that, there were very few houses where fireplaces can be found in Japan.
As a result, cleaning in the spring never really became a part of the Japanese culture.

In addition to that, Christmas is more important for people in the US than new year.
Usually all family and their relatives gather at their home on Christmas day.


4. Japanese Year End Cleaning at The Office



In Japan, people clean up not only their house but also the place where they work at or an organizational gather area  that they belong to at the end of the year.
Office is also one of them, and there are many companies where all workers need to participate in the cleaning of the company building in Japan.
Usually a date is decided, and almost all workers stop their jobs and start to clean up on that day at such companies.
It depends on each company where they need to clean up, but they need to clean at least their own desk.
In addition to that, it seen has more polite and helpful to help others clean or just to clean more than your own space.

If you do belong to a Japanese company, particularly one in Japan, you may be surprised to see all staffs stop their jobs and participate in the cleaning at some companies.
It may be rude if you do not participate in it, so I recommend you to confirm the schedule of the cleaning day at company in advance if you belong to it in Japan.


5. Japanese Year End Cleaning at School


Year end cleaning is done at schools as well, and usually all student body participate in it.
Actually, students are always cleaning up at school every day in Japan????.
This type of practice are usually a surprise to people overseas because there are many countries where students do not do this in the world.
It is said that the number of country where students clean at school is less than where they do not in the world.
In these countries, there are usually cleaning staffs, and students do not need to clean their classrooms.
This difference has happened because of some different way of thinking.
For example, in Japan, it is said they started this custom because of Buddhism.
In Buddhism, it is important to clean up so that they are able to keep their mind clear and pure.
Therefore, they educate students to clean their classrooms up every day at schools.
On the contrary, for example, it is believed that students need to focus on study, and they should not take time for cleaning in USA.
In addition to that, they teach students not to take a job of becoming a cleaning staffs.
Some people see this concept as a problem because it is often some type of trash or chewing gums on students’ desk in the U.S.
They believe that the lack of sanitary training among students allow them to exhibit this behaviour.

In Japan, the cleaning is usually done after lunch time or after a certain class, and it is common at almost all schools.
Due to this everyday cleaning practice, the end of the year cleaning customs are not seen as so special among school students.
It is, however, done at a much wider range than usual, and they clean where they are not able to usually clean up every day.


6. New Years Cleaning As a Unique Culture in Japan



I hope you are better able to understand why people in Japan deep clean their homes at the end of the year.
It is very different from spring cleaning done in the US, and the purpose for cleaning is also different from it.
Whereas people in Japan think a new year’s day is a very special day, people in the US think Christmas is much more special and important than new year.
In addition to that, the style of houses is also different between Japan and USA.
Although there were very few houses which have fireplace and chimney in Japan, the situation was different in the US, and people needed to clean them up after the melting of the snow in the spring.
Therefore, it was very natural for people in the US to do house cleaning in spring, and the custom of spring cleaning has spread there.
Compared to that, it was more suitable for people in Japan to clean their house up at the end of the year so that they are able to welcome the gods with a clean house.
They believe that the gods will bring them a fortune, and they think doing house cleaning is one of the ways to show their respect toward the gods.

As you can see from this article, the way of thinking toward cleaning is very different in each country, and I believe it is important to understand and converse on this differences. Let me know what you think in the comments below, and let’s enjoy the year end cleaning in Japan so that you are able to welcome the new year with fresh feelings!

Aika Kaise / Japan

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  • Mary says:

    Their cleaning nature is unbelievable, I wish people in the USA could learn abit about it from Japan, our children’s life would have been so much more comfortable and easier


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